Environmental toxicity, redox signaling and lung inflammation: the role of glutathione

Mol Aspects Med. 2009 Feb-Apr;30(1-2):60-76. doi: 10.1016/j.mam.2008.07.001. Epub 2008 Aug 8.


Glutathione (gamma-glutamyl-cysteinyl-glycine, GSH) is the most abundant intracellular antioxidant thiol and is central to redox defense during oxidative stress. GSH metabolism is tightly regulated and has been implicated in redox signaling and also in protection against environmental oxidant-mediated injury. Changes in the ratio of the reduced and disulfide form (GSH/GSSG) can affect signaling pathways that participate in a broad array of physiological responses from cell proliferation, autophagy and apoptosis to gene expression that involve H(2)O(2) as a second messenger. Oxidative stress due to oxidant/antioxidant imbalance and also due to environmental oxidants is an important component during inflammation and respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and asthma. It is known to activate multiple stress kinase pathways and redox-sensitive transcription factors such as Nrf2, NF-kappaB and AP-1, which differentially regulate the genes for pro-inflammatory cytokines as well as the protective antioxidant genes. Understanding the regulatory mechanisms for the induction of antioxidants, such as GSH, versus pro-inflammatory mediators at sites of oxidant-directed injuries may allow for the development of novel therapies which will allow pharmacological manipulation of GSH synthesis during inflammation and oxidative injury. This article features the current knowledge about the role of GSH in redox signaling, GSH biosynthesis and particularly the regulation of transcription factor Nrf2 by GSH and downstream signaling during oxidative stress and inflammation in various pulmonary diseases. We also discussed the current therapeutic clinical trials using GSH and other thiol compounds, such as N-acetyl-l-cysteine, fudosteine, carbocysteine, erdosteine in environment-induced airways disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Glutathione / analogs & derivatives
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Glutathione / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Pneumonia / metabolism*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / physiology


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Glutathione